The Lord Mayor’s Show has inspired an extraordinary range of artists over its eight centuries. You might expect it to appear in Pepys’ diaries, but the Lord Mayor of London also shows up in Shakespeare plays, a James Bond novel and even a Hitchcock film.
There have been countless paintings and drawings of the Show - more than we can possibly display here - but two very different images stand out, and as it happens they were both created in 1747: one by Canaletto and one by Hogarth. These were two of the finest artists of their day, and represent the apotheosis of eighteenth century English and Italian painting. The fact that they both chose to represent the Lord Mayor's Show indicates not only its status as an event, but its vibrancy as an artistic subject.
Canaletto's painting is one of five he painted of the Show, and depicts the eighteen-oared State Barge , as well as the twelve-oared barges of a number of Livery companies. Three sailing ships fly the Union Jack, and plumes of smoke can be seen trailing across the water indicating that salutes have just been fired.
The canopy of the Lord Mayor's State Barge is covered with blue cloth, which is significant. Two different types of cloth were used for the awnings of ceremonial barges: blue cloth which was called "Plunkett", indicating a civic event; and "Murrey", a red cloth used on Royal occasions.
The painting is an idealisation of London and The Show, taking an imaginary viewpoint high above the Thames. It presents a vista so broad it could not be taken in at one glance, but which was created by the superimposition of two separate views.
Canaletto's brilliant blue sky owes much to his native Venice, and against it is arranged the architecture of London: Lambeth Palace; Westminster Abbey; Westminster Hall, the original destination of the Show; and the four spires of St John's Smith Square, Queen Anne's footstool. But the dominating architectural feature is the new Westminster Bridge, which was not opened until two years after the painting was completed. It is shown with the statues of the river gods, Thames and Isis, over the centre span, but although planned these were never executed.
By contrast, Hogarth objected to what he called "phizmongering", the artificial prettification of people and places. London was his universe, and he showed its high life and low life with a keen and critical eye.
His 'Industry and Idleness' series is a highly moral work, illustrating the rewards which await those who choose to spend their time wisely, or to enjoy the easy virtue of London's dissolute underbelly. Two apprentices start their training together but follow entirely different paths. The Idle Apprentice is eventually hanged at Tyburn, whilst the Industrious Apprentice marries his master's daughter and becomes Lord Mayor of London, the highest position to which he could aspire.
The final engraving in the series sees the Industrious Apprentice in his coach on Lord Mayor's Day, mobbed by an admiring crowd, and watched from a balcony by Frederick, Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta. He rides in a hired coach which was introduced following the incident in 1711 when the Lord Mayor fell from his horse and broke his leg; today's magnificent coach was not built until 1757.